“Eh, but that’s a trifle for a campaigner.”
“Let this be a warnin’ to ’ee, my son niver to save no more lives from drownin’.”
“I won’t,” promised Young Zeb.
“We’ve found ’ee a great missment,” Elias observed to him, after a pause. “The Psa’ms, these three Sundays, bain’t what they was for lack o’ your enlivenin’ flute—I can’t say they be. An’ to hear your very own name called forth in the banns wi’ Ruby’s, an’ you wi’out part nor lot therein—”
“Elias, you mean it well, no doubt; but I’d take it kindly if you sheered off.”
“‘Twas a wisht Psa’m, too,” went on Elias, “las’ Sunday mornin’; an’ I cudn’ help my thoughts dwellin’ ’pon the dismals as I blowed, nor countin’ how that by this time to-morrow—”
But Young Zeb had caught up his cap and rushed from the cottage.
He took, not the highway to Porthlooe, but a footpath that slanted up the western slope of the coombe, over the brow of the hill, and led in time to the coast and a broader path above the cliffs. The air was warm, and he climbed in such hurry that the sweat soon began to drop from his forehead. By the time he reached the cliffs he was forced to pull a handkerchief out and mop himself; but without a pause, he took the turning westward towards Troy harbour, and tramped along sturdily. For his mind was made up.
Ship’s-chandler Webber, of Troy, was fitting out a brand-new privateer, he had heard, and she was to sail that very week. He would go and offer himself as a seaman, and if Webber made any bones about it, he would engage to put a part of his legacy into the adventure. In fact, he was ready for anything that would take him out of Porthlooe. To live there and run the risk of meeting Ruby on the other man’s arm was more than flesh and blood could stand. So he went along with his hands deep in his pockets, his eyes fastened straight ahead, his heart smoking, and the sweat stinging his eyelids. And as he went he cursed the day of his birth.
From Porthlooe to Troy Ferry is a good six miles by the cliffs, and when he had accomplished about half the distance, he was hailed by name.
Between the path at this point and the cliff’s edge lay a small patch cleared for potatoes, and here an oldish man was leaning on his shovel and looking up at Zeb.
“Good-mornin’, my son!”
The old man had once worked inland at St. Teath slate-quarries, and made his living as a “hollibubber,” or one who carts away the refuse slates. On returning to his native parish he had brought back and retained the name of his profession, the parish register alone preserving his true name of Matthew Spry. He was a fervent Methodist—a local preacher, in fact—and was held in some admiration by “the people” for his lustiness in prayer-meeting. A certain intensity in his large grey eyes gave character to a face that was otherwise quite insignificant. You could see he was a good man.