“There’s the mizzen, sir—”
“I thought so. We’ll have discipline, lads, to the end—if you please. We’ll meet here on Saturday: and when you’ve done your unbendin’ maybe I’ll start doin’ mine.”
He took up the musical box, tucked it under his arm, and marched out.
The way was long, the sun was hot, the minstrel (as surely he may be called who carries a musical box) was more than once in two minds about turning back. He perspired under his absurdly superfluous burden.
To be sure he might—for Troy is always neighbourly—have knocked in at some cottage on his way through the tail-end of the town and deposited the box, promising to return for it. But he was flurried, pressed for time, disgracefully behind time, in fact; and, moreover, thanks to his attire and changed appearance, no friendly face had smiled recognition though he had recognised some half a dozen. There was no time to stop, renew old acquaintance, ask a small favour with explanations. . . . All this was natural enough: yet he felt an increasing sense of human selfishness, human ingratitude—he, toiling along with this token of human gratitude under his arm!
At the extreme end of the town his way led him through the entrance of a wooded valley, or coombe, down which a highroad, a rushing stream, and a railway line descend into Troy Harbour, more or less in parallels, from the outside world. A creek runs some little way up the vale. In old days—in Captain Cai’s young days—it ran up for half a mile or more to an embanked mill-pool and a mill-wheel lazily turning: and Rilla Farm had in those days been Rilla Mill, with a farmstead attached as the miller’s parergon.
But the railway had swept away mill-pool and wheel: and Rilla was now Rilla Farm. The railway, too, cutting sheer through the slope over which the farmstead stood, had transformed shelving turf to rocky cliff and farmstead to eyrie. You approached Rilla now by a footbridge crossing the line, and thereafter by a winding pathway climbing the cliff, with here and there a few steps hewn in the living rock. Nature in some twenty odd years had draped the cliff with fern—the Polypodium vulgare—and Mrs Bosenna in her early married days had planted the crevices with arabis, alyssum, and aubrietia, which had taken root and spread, and now, overflowing their ledges, ran down in cascades of bloom—white, yellow, and purple. The ascent, in short, was very pretty and romantic, and you might easily imagine it the approach to some foreign hill-castle or monastery: for the farmhouse on the summit hid itself behind out-buildings the walls of which crowned the escarpment and presented a blank face, fortress-like, overlooking the vale. The path (as you have gathered) was for pedestrians only. Mrs Bosenna’s farm-carts and milk-carts—her dairy trade was considerable—had to fetch a circuit by the road-bridge, half a mile inland.