Nicky-Nan started, as though it were a hand arresting him.
The rain—the last, for many weeks, to visit Polpier—cleared up soon after midday. At one o’clock or thereabouts Nicky-Nan, having dined on a stale crust and a slice of bacon, and recovered somewhat from his first alarm (as even so frugal a meal will put courage into a man), ventured to the porch again for a look at the weather. The weather and the set of the wind always come first in a Polpier man’s interest. They form the staple of conversation on the Quay-side. Fish ranks next: after fish, religion: after religion, clack about boats and persons; and so we come down to politics, peace and war, the manner of getting to foreign ports and the kind of people one finds in them.
Nicky-Nan could read very few signs of the weather from his dark little parlour. The gully of the river deflected all true winds, and the overhanging houses closed in all but a narrow strip of sky, prolonged study of which was apt to induce a crick in the neck. To be sure, certain winds could be recognised by their voices: a southerly one of any consequence announced itself by a curious droning note which, if it westered a little, rose to a sharp whistle and, in anything above half-a-gale, to a scream. But to see what the weather was like, you must go to the front porch.
Nicky-Nan went to the front porch and gazed skyward. The wind—as the saying is—had “catched in,” and was blowing briskly from the north-west, chasing diaphanous clouds across the blue zenith. The roofs still shone wet and dazzling, and there were puddles in the street. But he knew the afternoon was going to be a fine one. He took pleasure in this when, a few moments later, his ear caught the thudding of a distant drum. . . . Yes, yes—it was Bank Holiday, and the children would be assembling, up the valley, for the Anniversary Treat of the Wesleyan Sunday School. There would be waggons waiting to convey them up-inland to Squire Tresawna’s pleasure-grounds—to high shaven lawns whereon, for once in the year, they could enjoy themselves running about upon the level. (In Polpier, as any mother there will tell you, a boy has to wear out his exuberance mostly on the seat of his breeches and bring it to a check by digging in his heels somewhere. And the wastage at these particular points of his tailoring persists when he grows up to manhood; for a crabber sits much on the thwart of a boat and drives with his heels against a stretcher. Thus it happens that three-fourths of Billy Bosistow’s cobbling is devoted to the “trigging” of boot-heels, while the wives, who mend all the small clothes, have long ago and by consent given up any pretence of harmonising the patch with the original garment. At Troy and at St Martin’s they will tell you that every Polpier man carries about his home-address on his person, and will rudely indicate where. Mrs Penhaligon put it one day in more delicate proverbial form. “In a rabbit-warren,” she said, “you learn not to notice scuts.”)