“Have you?” asked Miss Oliver. “If I let such a thought trouble my head, I’d scarce close an eye when I went to bed.”
“But what puzzles me,” went on Mrs Polsue, “is how that Nanjivell found the pluck. Every one knows him for next door to a pauper: and yet he spoke up, as if he had pounds an’ to spare.”
“Perhaps you irritated him,” suggested Miss Oliver. “Everybody knows that, poor as folks may be, if you try to set them right beyond a certain point—”
The two ladies, in this amiable converse, had drawn near to the bridge-end. They were suddenly aware of a party of six soldiers in khaki, headed by a corporal, advancing over the bridge in file. Each pair of soldiers carried between them a heavy sack, swinging it slowly as they marched.
The ladies drew aside, curious. The soldiers halted in front of the Old Doctor’s House. The corporal—a stout man—walked into the porch-way and knocked.
Mrs Penhaligon answered the knock, and after a short colloquy was heard to call back into the passage summoning Mr Nanjivell.
In half a minute Nicky-Nan hobbled out. Meanwhile, their passage over the bridge being clear ahead, our two ladies had no good excuse for lingering. Yet they lingered. When all was said and done, no such sight as that of seven soldiers in khaki had been witnessed in Polpier within living memory. The child population of Polpier was indoors, expectant of dinner; and the squad missed the compliment of attention that would certainly have been paid it ten minutes earlier or an hour later.
“Here are your spuds,” announced Corporal Sandercock, “with the Commandin’ Officer’s compliments.” He paused, seemingly in wrestle with an inward reluctance. He plunged his right hand into his breeches pocket. “And here,” said he, “be two sovereigns picked up in addition to the one you dropped this mornin’. It softens my surprise a bit,” Corporal Sandercock added, “now that I see the house you occupy, and,” with a glance at Mrs Penhaligon—“the style you maintain. But for a man o’ seemin’ly close habits, you’re terribly flippant with your loose gold.”
When Polpier folk had occasion to talk of soldiers and soldiering—a far-away theme to which the mind seldom wandered—their eyes would become pensive and their voices take an accent of pity tinged with gentle contempt. ’There were such men. People back inland, among various strange avocations, followed this one; at a shilling a-day, too!’ Some months before, as young Seth Minards happened to be dandering along the western cliff-track, he was met and accosted by an officer in uniform, who asked him many questions about the coast, its paths, the coves where a boat might be beached in moderate weather, &c., and made notes on the margin of a map. “Who was that tall chap I see’d ‘ee in talk with, up by th’