“I never heard of it. Why did they cage you?”
“I was prisoner on a French ship which they captured. I let them believe me French rather than be pressed on board a King’s ship.”
“Right! Blight him!”
That long rest made men of us again. Our host had little to say to us except that the King was mad, and we concluded that on that subject he was none too sane himself, though in other matters we had no fault to find with him.
We got directions for our guidance out of him during the day, and as soon as it was dark he set off with us across the marshes, and led us at last on to more trustworthy ground and told us how to go. We gave him money and hearty thanks, and shook him by the hand and went on our way. The last words we heard from him, out of the darkness, were the same as we heard first in the darkness—“Blight him! Blight him! Blight him!” and if they did another old man no harm they certainly seemed to afford great satisfaction to this one.
All that night we walked steadily eastward, passing through sleeping villages and by sleeping farmhouses, and meeting none who showed any desire to question us. In the early morning I bought bread and cheese from a sleepy wife at a little shop in a village that was just waking up, and we ate as we walked, and slept in a haystack till late in the afternoon. We tramped again all night, and long before daylight we smelt salt water, and when the sun rose we were sitting on a cliff watching it come up out of the sea.
HOW WE CAME UPON A WHITED SEPULCHRE AND FELL INTO THE FIRE
We wandered a great way down that lonely coast before a fishing village hove in sight. At regular intervals we came upon watchmen on the look-out for invaders or smugglers, and to all such we gave wide berth, by a circuit in the country or by dodging them on their beats. It was only towns we feared, and of those there were fortunately not many. In the villages we had no difficulty in buying food, and to all who questioned we were on our way to the Nore to join a King’s ship and fight the Frenchmen. To cover Le Marchant’s lack of speech, we muffled his face in flannel and gave him a toothache which rendered him bearish and disinclined for talk. And so we came slowly down the coast, with eyes and ears alert for chance of crossing, and wondered at the lack of enterprise on the part of the dwellers there which rendered the chances so few.
Many recollections crowd my mind of that long tramp along the edge of the sea. But greater matters press, and I may not linger on these. We had many a close shave from officious village busybodies, whose patriotism flew no higher than thought of the reward which hung to an escaped prisoner of war or to any likely subject for the pressgang.
One such is burnt in on my mind, because thought of him has done more to make me suspicious of my fellows, especially of such as make parade of their piety, than any man I ever met.