“Sha’n’t thee go underground to-day, father?” says I, at last.
He turned slowly round, and says he, “No, sonny. ’Reckon us’ll climb skywards for a change.”
And with that, he took my hand, and pushing abroad the belfry door began to climb the stairway. Up and up, round and round we went, in a sort of blind-man’s-holiday full of little glints of light and whiff’s of wind where the open windows came; and at last stepped out upon the leads of the tower and drew breath.
“There’s two-an’-twenty parishes to be witnessed from where we’re standin’, sonny—if ye’ve got eyes,” says my father.
Well, first I looked down towards the harvesters and laughed to see them so small: and then I fell to counting the church-towers dotted across the high-lands, and seeing if I could make out two-and-twenty. ’Twas the prettiest sight—all the country round looking as if ’twas dusted with gold, and the Plymouth road winding away over the hills like a long white tape. I had counted thirteen churches, when my father pointed his hand out along this road and called to me—
“Look’ee out yonder, honey, an’ say what ye see!”
“I see dust,” says I.
“Nothin’ else? Sonny boy, use your eyes, for mine be dim.”
“I see dust,” says I again, “an’ suthin’ twinklin’ in it, like a tin can—”
“Dragooners!” shouts my father; and then, running to the side of the tower facing the harvest-field, he put both hands to his mouth and called:
“What have ’ee? What have ’ee?”—very loud and long.
“A neck—a neck!” came back from the field, like as if all shouted at once—dear, the sweet sound! And then a gun was fired, and craning forward over the coping I saw a dozen men running across the stubble and out into the road towards the Hauen; and they called as they ran, “A neck—a neck!”
“Iss,” says my father, “’tis a neck, sure ’nuff. Pray God they save en! Come, sonny—”
But we dallied up there till the horsemen were plain to see, and their scarlet coats and armour blazing in the dust as they came. And when they drew near within a mile, and our limbs ached with crouching—for fear they should spy us against the sky—father took me by the hand and pulled hot foot down the stairs. Before they rode by he had picked up his shovel and was shovelling out a grave for his life.