“But there was a trick I minded in the way she worked her mouth, an’ says I, ‘Missus Polwarne, your husband’s a-waitin’ for ’ee, round by the front door.’
“‘Aw, is he indeed?’ she answers, holdin’ her needle for a moment— an’ her voice was all hollow, like as if she pumped it up from a fathom or two. ’Then, if he knows what’s due to his wife, I’ll trouble en to come round,’ she says; ’for this here’s the door I mean to go in by.’”
But at this point Simon asserts very plausibly that he swooned off; so it is not known how they settled it.
[This story is true, as anyone who cares may assure himself by referring to Robert Hunt’s “Drolls of the West of England,” p. 357.]
IV.—THE BOY BY THE BEACH.
There are in this small history some gaps that can never be filled up; but as much as I know I will tell you.
The cottage where Kit lived until he was five years old stands at the head of a little beach of white shingle, just inside the harbour’s mouth, so that all day long Kit could see the merchant-ships trailing in from sea, and passing up to the little town, or dropping down to the music of the capstan-song, and the calls and the creaking, as their crews hauled up the sails. Some came and went under bare poles in the wake of panting tugs; but those that carried canvas pleased Kit more. For a narrow coombe wound up behind the cottage, and down this coombe came not only the brook that splashed by the garden gate, but a small breeze, always blowing, so that you might count on seeing the white sails take it, and curve out majestically as soon as ever they came opposite the cottage, and hold it until under the lee of the Battery Point.
Besides these delights, the cottage had a plantation of ash and hazel above it, that climbed straight to the smooth turf and the four guns of the Battery; and a garden with a tamarisk hedge, and a bed of white violets, the earliest for miles around, and a fuchsia tree three times as tall as Kit, and a pink climbing rose that looked in at Kit’s window and blossomed till late in November. Here the child lived alone with his mother. For there was a vagueness of popular opinion respecting Kit’s father; while about his mother, unhappily, there was no vagueness at all. She was a handsome, low-browed woman, with a loud laugh, a defiant manner, and a dress of violent hues. Decent wives clutched their skirts in passing her: but, as a set-off, she was on excellent terms with every sea-captain and mate that put into the port.
All these captains and mates knew Kit and made a pet of him: and indeed there was a curious charm in the great serious eyes and reddish curls of this child whom other children shunned. No one can tell if he felt his isolation; but of course it drove him to return the men’s friendship, and to wear a man’s solemnity and habit of speech. The woman dressed him carefully, in glaring colours, out of her means: and as for his manners, they would no doubt have become false and absurd, as time went and knowledge came; but at the age of four they were those of a prince.